PEN America Gap Year Fellowship Program: Fall 2020/Spring 2021

PEN America, a nonprofit organization working at the intersection of literature and human rights, offers a unique learning opportunity for individuals who are passionate about human rights, free speech, and creative expression, and interested in how the nonprofit sector works. This fellowship opportunity will require a commitment of 7 to 10 months, starting in Fall 2020. It is ideal for a student on a pause from undergraduate or graduate studies for the 2020–21 school year due to closures related to COVID-19, or for an individual seeking to take a “gap year” between studies.

This fellowship is based in New York City. It is expected that work will be in-person for at least some portion of the fellowship period, although it may begin virtually depending upon applicable health and safety considerations. Fellows will be welcomed as part of their assigned team and participate in the community of PEN America, including team and staff meetings, professional development offerings, and social opportunities. There may also be an opportunity for a Los Angeles-based fellowship for a highly qualified candidate.

The fellowship provides an opportunity to work with one of the following PEN America departments: Communications, Free Expression Programs, Artists at Risk Connection, Membership and National Outreach, or Literary Programs. Each of these departments will provide a unique and enriched learning experience, and more information about their work can be found by exploring the PEN America website ( Candidates can express interest in one or more of them in their application, although it is envisioned that fellows will be assigned to one area for the duration of their program. Examples of the opportunities include:

  • PEN America’s Communications Department: A fellowship with the communications department is designed to provide a crash course in nonprofit and advocacy communications at a dynamic organization that works on both United States and international issues. Depending on experience and interest, Communications Fellows might: own and write a new newsletter vertical to broaden PEN America’s digital audiences; manage the communications campaign around one of our marquee projects; or write and produce regular features on our website, including author interviews, Q&As, podcasts, and videos.
  • PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC): An ARC fellowship includes research and outreach to identify and expand the vast network of arts and human rights organizations assisting artists at risk; drafting content for social media platforms, the website, and communications/outreach; and supporting prospect research and other fundraising efforts to expand funding for the initiative. Fellows will communicate with individual artists at risk worldwide and liaise with ARC’s global network of organizations in order to connect artists to support. They will also have the opportunity to monitor news and cases concerning the repression of artistic expression worldwide, including reacting via occasional press releases.
  • PEN America’s Free Expression Programs: This fellowship involves research and advocacy on pressing free expression issues, with a particular focus on free speech on U.S. campuses; press freedoms and other U.S. free expression issues; support for writers at risk globally; and regional advocacy and programming focused on Eurasia, Myanmar, and China. Fellows will have the opportunity to develop skills and gain direct experience in drafting advocacy materials, providing input to thematic reports, and preparing for major advocacy campaigns and events.

Candidates representing diverse backgrounds are strongly encouraged to apply. Additionally, candidates who ideally would be balancing the fellowship (in place of school) along with outside employment are also encouraged to apply, and should indicate this in their application for special consideration regarding schedule flexibility.

Desired Attributes:

  • Can clearly identify their personal goals for the program and what they hope to gain from the fellowship
  • Able to demonstrate skills and abilities and able to provide references to support this
  • Knowledge of and interest in global free expression and creative freedom issues
  • Strong research, writing, organizational, and administrative skills
  • Able to communicate challenges and find solutions
  • Ability to work quickly, stay highly organized, and multitask in a fast-paced environment
  • Comfortable with Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) and G Suite; experience with Adobe, Canva, and other design tools a plus
  • Experience managing social media accounts, drafting social media content, and working with websites
  • Proficiency in Spanish, French, Arabic, Chinese, or other languages a plus


  • Must be able to provide proof of authorization to study in the United States
  • Must be able to provide proof of enrollment or acceptance into an academic program of study for the academic year of 2020/21, or prepare a document that explains their academic history and academic plans
  • Must be available to start during September 2020, and with an anticipated end date in May 2021. Minor variations on these dates will be considered
  • Must commit to 24–35 hours, and four or five days per week (within normal business hours, and on weekdays)
  • While this is an unpaid position, fellows will receive a stipend to cover costs associated with commuting within New York City
  • Fellows must have the ability to come into the office (provided conditions permit) 

To apply, please prepare:

  • A resume or CV, one to two pages maximum
  • A cover letter indicating your interest in the fellowship (including which PEN America departments interest you), how the fellowship will support future plans or current studies/projects, and the skills you would bring to the fellowship
  • A separate short statement explaining academic status, why a gap year is planned, and any challenges affecting your academic experience and how they are being overcome
  • A work sample that demonstrates your proficiency as a writer, researcher, advocate, or communicator. Preferably with applicability to PEN America’s work (five pages maximum)

The above must be sent via email to [email protected] with a subject line that includes PEN America Fellowship and your first and last name (For example, PEN America Fellowship – Jane Doe).

Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis and must be received no later than 5pm ET on June 30, 2020. Decisions will be communicated by July 30, 2020. 

About PEN America:

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.